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Tragedy at WDW's Grand Floridian

Okay, so, JUST TO BE CLEAR: This actually _is_ a tragedy. This is a very awful story. If awful stories involving children are the kind of thing you can't tolerate hearing you should really back away now.



Here is some blank space for you.



And some more. Seriously. Leave now. Dead young person.


All right.

We go to WDW. A lot. And we like staying at the GF. We stay other places, too, but when I saw the pictures from this story, I knew without being told the resort where it happened, because it's right next to a place where I've spent a bunch of time with my young children and mother-in-law and husband. I cannot count the number of times I've walked across that stretch of sand.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/15/482130882/alligator-grabs-2-year-old-near-disneys-grand-floridian-resort

I've never seen an alligator anywhere near this place. That said, when we stayed at the Beach Club, when we walked across a bridge from the parking lot to the villas, there were a frightening number of gators in the water under the bridge. We stopped and counted. Double digits. Lots of snappy terror, right there.

According to the NPR coverage, since the incident:

"Nick Wiley of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ... said, his team has removed four alligators from the lake, euthanized them and analyzed them. They found no evidence that suggested they were involved in the boy's disappearance." (The punctuation makes sense in context -- I just wanted to include the explanation of who Wiley is so I pushed two different sections together.)

I would like to offer up the following comments, but I would further like them to be understood in the context of (a) I'm not blaming the family and (b) I'm not blaming Disney and (c) I'm not blaming the conservation commission. All that said, I think there are some lessons that can be taken away from this.

(1) Don't Ever Go In Water at WDW That Isn't Expressly Maintained For That Purpose. If it's a pool, or a hot tub or a part of a water park or a spray feature or an outdoor shower, have fun and follow the posted rules. I read a fair amount back in the day about the construction of The World and I would _never_ _ever_ _ever_ touch the "natural" water in The World. It ain't natural. It's quite awful. And it turns out that in addition to being unnatural and awful from all the many perspectives I had from that reading, there are also gators in it, this being central Florida (it can be hard to remember, while immersed in the theming, that you are in Florida. But you are in Florida).

(2) Disney is understandably concerned about its reputation with a variety of communities that have families. And they don't want to open themselves up to attacks from environmentalists because they are blithely massacring the local fauna to keep the place safe for guests. (Don't get me started on the vulture thing.) I get it. I spent a lot of time walking around Green Lake stepping in green goose shit. I have heard more than one story (didn't happen to me, ever, but I'm quite aggressive) of a woman being sexually assaulted by a goose (turns out those Greek myths have some basis to them. Who knew?). It took a really, really long time to convince Seattle Parks & Rec to do something about the goose problem, and it is now a chronic issue, trying to figure out how to appropriately manage the population. (ETA: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=9351 The article discusses the pre-kill efforts at deportation of eggs, which didn't reduce numbers for very long and just made it so other places had the problem also. So if you're thinking, oh, just capture the gators and move them, well, waste of effort. While it may be the case that killing has ended at Green Lake because other control efforts are working, other lakes in the region are continuing to struggle: http://www.issaquahreporter.com/news/218746311.html) But all that said, we are apex predators and this is one of our nesting areas. We should keep it safe. It's tempting to say they should patrol the area, but honestly, they've got so many cast members yards away busy checking to make sure no one is at the bottom of the pool that you could get to the point where you couldn't move without tripping over a cast member. There are a LOT of signs. I don't think this is something you fix with more signs and more staff. I think this is something you fix by reducing the population of offending predators.

(3) Finally, I know that there is some history between WDW and the conservation commission, previously known as the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. I mentioned the vultures, right?

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1989-09-24/news/8909243945_1_walt-disney-discovery-island-vultures

Nobody wants another thing like the vultures. But gators in Florida are not like endangered gorillas living in a zoo in Cleveland or whatever. And while there ARE signs saying to stay out of the water, this is not a kid that defeated multiple barriers to get into a space where the paying customers are not supposed to go. I think we're going to need to make it so there aren't gators in this vicinity, and that might involve killing more than four. Maybe the involved parties could hash out a program to maintain the population at an appropriate level on an ongoing basis, so low level employees don't wind up inventing something on the fly that embarrasses everyone when it comes to light.

ETA: Also, if you are thinking, oh, hey, maybe a decorative railing at the water's edge? Probably not gonna be enough to stop the gators.

http://icwdm.org/handbook/reptiles/Alligators.asp

"Concrete or wooden bulkheads that are a minimum of 3 feet (1 m) above the high water mark will repel alligators along waterways and lakes. Alligators have been documented to climb 5-foot (1.5-m) chain-link fences to get at dogs. Fences at least 5 feet high with 4-inch (10-cm) mesh will effectively exclude larger alligators if the top of the fence is angled outward."

ETA: NYT reprinted a piece from the late 1980s about how the Conservation Commission (under an earlier name) handled gators.

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/water-hazard-florida-tries-to-keep-people-and-alligators-apart/

Again, relocation does not work.

ETAYA:

WaPo coverage of 1986 attack on a (surviving) 8 year old at the World. Included in the article is a link to contemporaneous news coverage.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/06/16/30-years-ago-another-boy-was-attacked-by-an-alligator-at-disney-here-is-his-story/

It would be easy to ask questions about why a couple kids rescued a kid successfully in 1986 but adults couldn't save a kid in 2016, but I think the relevant feature is the age difference. 8 year olds are bigger than 2 year olds, so the ability of the gator to get away is substantially limited. Reptiles are surprisingly bad at letting go once they have clamped down. (<-- this is not a joke)

Here is some detailed information about how alligators behave and what to do / not to do around them.

http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/files/State%20Parks/Wildlife%20Page/WW_alligators.pdf

The beach where the child was attacked has emergent vegetation.

"Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn. Therefore, swim only during daylight hours. Large alligators feed most actively during the evening hours."

"DON’T swim or allow pets to swim in areas with emergent vegetation (plants
growing up out of the water). Alligators favor this type of habitat. Swim in
designated areas only."

For all you control freak-y planners out there wondering what to do if you are at GF and see something like this again:

http://www.wikihow.com/Survive-an-Encounter-with-a-Crocodile-or-Alligator

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